Tune in, turn it up and be amazed
By Malik Siraj Akbar
At 100, radio still lives healthily. A radio boom has overtaken the entire Quetta valley from all sides over the past few months. Thanks to the FM radio stations, the number of radio listeners has tremendously increased. Amidst fears that books and radio were two of the rapidly fading away media that continuously failed to attract Balochistan’s youth of today, the FM culture has dramatically changed these perceptions.
Walk inside a swanky bookshop, a swarming drug store or an aromatic restaurant in the Baloch capital, Quetta, one would at once notice the ubiquitous FM mania that has taken the entire valley in its tight grip.
Presently, only two FM radio stations are operating in Quetta. The government-controlled FM 101, based inside the Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation (PBC) compound, was the first to start its transmission two years back. While after airing a nine-month trail transmission, the private station, Sachal 105, run by Sachal Communication Group, became the second FM radio station in the provincial capital after regularization of its service on September 20th, 2006.
Masquerading to be utterly oblivious to sensitive subjects like politics and religion, these two stations are engaged in entertaining their listeners with hip-hop music of assorted genre. ” In a largely ignorant society where entertainment is perceived to be taboo and music ‘haram’,” Rubina Rahim, Station Director of Sachal 105, tells Daily Times ” the FM stations, where education and information go side by side, have come as a pleasant surprise for the people of Balochistan.”
She believes the FM culture has assumed wide-ranging acceptance among the youths. Contrary to the misperceptions, the teens of Balochistan are equally progressive when it comes to their impressively large participation in various programs through their phone calls, e-mails and letters.
” At FM, there is no artificiality. The used language, a weird blend of Urdu and English, in chat-chats is the one used in our daily confabulations. This frank and gracious lingo is acceptable to the listeners. And this makes FM different from the traditional radio stations,” says Tanveer Iqbal, Manger of FM-101. Tanveer argues Quetta and rest of Balochistan are as a matter of fact very different from the preconceived image the people living outside have about the province. “Balochistan is not conservative at all. The people, especially the young men, have an inclination towards promotion of art and music. At FM our DJs, [Disk Jockeys] endeavor to present the true picture of the society.”
Though controlled by the government of Pakistan, Iqbal says, FM 101 is very different from Radio Pakistan in terms of censorship. “We try to preach love and harmony among our people regardless of their communal affiliations. Our DGs observe self-censorship. There are no government dictations as to what sort of song we should play and what not to play.”
He admits that the number of radio listeners in Quetta has considerably increased because of the back-to-back music. But the FM stations have also begun to air different programs on social issues to educate the people of the country’s most backward province.
Ms. Rahim of Sachal 105 told Daily Times that given the deep-rooted backwardness of Balochistan, radio has a significant role to play in educating the masses.
Rahim says once they invited a religious scholar in their program and the callers were asked to pose questions on religious issues. ” I was shocked that one person asked if one’s fasting in Ramadan could break by chewing gum. So this is the level of people’s education. Our people even do not know very fundamental things. And the duty of educating the people can best be performed through FM stations,” she adds.
She said when they started their search for talent in Quetta while launching Sachal, they were quite surprised to see the huge number of young men and women who turned up to become RJs [Radio Jockeys].
” There is no lack of talent and enthusiasm among the youths of Balochistan but it is just the scarcity of opportunities that bars them from demonstrating their abilities,” she remarked adding,” there is no platform for the young men and women of Balochistan in the provincial capital. They don’t know what to do. Thus, our youths are exploited either by religious or nationalist elements for subversive activities.”
The FM radio stations in Balochistan are also gaining popularity for the wide coverage given to regional languages. For instance, Sachal 105 airs programs, most of them being musical programs, in seven languages. These include Urdu, English, Balochi, Pashtoo, Bravi, Persian and Sindhi. Though FM 101 airs songs in several languages, its programs are solely hosted in Urdu. This, therefore, gives Sachal 105 an extra edge to its rival 101.
” The public participation is beyond our expectations,” says 101′s Iqbal, ” on a single telephone line, we get around 1000 phone calls per day from Quetta alone. While the number of letters and e-mails is in thousands. It means people are searching for healthy entertainment.”
FM 101 airs programs 23 hours a day while Sachal 105 has a shorter duration of programs for 18 hours. The DJs and RJs in these stations, both males and females, are mostly students from the universities of Balochistan.
Notably, Sachal 105 gives credit to the Indian and folk songs for its popularity. When asked what it takes to be a good DJ or RJ, both Rahim and Iqbal had total unanimity of views: “An acceptable voice and an ability to observe the things more deeply than how rest of the people view them.”
The management of FM 101 says the very basic objective of the FM stations is to provide entertainment to their listeners. But Rubina Rahim of 105 says nowhere in the world is FM solely used to play songs alone.
” We wish to get out of the cocoon we have confined ourselves in. We will be broadcasting news and current affairs programs from February 15,” she adds.
When asked about the kinds of problems they face in Balochistan, Rubina smiled and said: ” It is Balochistan after all. You have to understand. People have objections on a program in which people [including lovers] dedicate songs to each other. People come to me and ask: ” hey what you think you are doing?”"
While the FM stations in Balochistan are getting tremendous popularity among the listeners, the management of private-owned Sachal does not find itself in the midst of completely satisfactory circumstances.
Rubina Rahim says the biggest problem her station faces is difficulty to get advertisements in Quetta to generate revenue. ” Quetta has no private sector or big companies at all. People love to listen to music but they prefer to advertise their products on cable television or in the local newspapers,” she says with a toothless smile. ” But I am proud we have more achievements to cheer about rather than the hardships we are facing. I have brought young men from all ethnic communities on one platform. I want these young men to go forward.”
One thing that the FM stations can be proud of is the continuous preaching of communal harmony, patriotism, national integration, and respect for others in addition to providing entrainment to their listeners.
” If such a cheap medium can do wonders then why not to promote it with greater seriousness, concludes Iqbal of 101